In a statement that has garnered a collective eye roll from the entire gaming community, Kerry Hopkins, EA’s VP of legal and government affairs, said that the company’s randomized purchases are not in any way considered as loot boxes, but instead are “surprise mechanics.”
Speaking at an evidence session with the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee, Hopkins was bold enough to compare the mechanics to surprise toys, which have been in circulation for years in the form of Kinder Eggs, Hatchimals, or LOL Surprise. The comparison, while ridiculous and wildly inaccurate, is not a surprising one in a time when everyone wants to ensure they can get their consumer base addicted to a gambling-style “mechanic.”
Interestingly, the argument continued by moving towards the idea that loot boxes are enjoyed because “... it’s like many other products that people enjoy in a healthy way, and like the element of surprise.” This is perhaps a perfect way to describe something without having any idea what is being discussed.
If we focus on this “element of surprise” notion, we would probably be hard pressed to find any solid data to support this claim. Loot boxes in EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront II, or in mobile games like Marvel Strike Force, often contain extremely rare items that are dangled in front of the player and then hidden within loot boxes. In some games, this is a rare cosmetic, but in others, items provide you with a bigger advantage.
In either case, the vast majority of players do not open loot boxes for the element of surprise. They see a rare item and know that the more boxes they open, the more likely they are to attain said item, which is almost exactly like a scratch and win ticket.
Next is the problematic comparison to a Kinder Surprise, which provides a real, tangible product in that little plastic toy. Afterwards, that toy can be sold to someone else, destroyed, or done with as one sees fit because it is a tangible item. Loot boxes and their digital contents do not share this tangibility, nor to players have any right to sell those items to other people. Most Terms of Service Agreements prohibit it and ban players who try.
If we were to believe for even a moment that loot boxes were like Kinder Surprise, then players should also have immediate access to every digital cosmetic to trade, sell, or destroy. However, we do not, so the comparison is flawed.
The argument no doubt is a desperate attempt by EA to attempt to salvage what is a complete cash cow and parasite of the video game industry. Clearly, if countries begin to act like Belgium, which has made all forms of loot box mechanics illegal, EA would lose a significant amount of revenue per year.
If only EA had something to fall back on, like making quality games instead of relying on people to spend money on digital loot boxes.
One thing is certain, though: fans of the upcoming Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order have been looking forward to a game with no loot boxes. What if EA instead announced that the game would have 'surprise mechanics'? A million fans would suddenly cry out in anguish.